Optimising data usage to improve services to our communities

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

Councils across the UK hold an incredible wealth of data but have been slow to mirror the private sector in optimising this data as a strategic and operational tool to anticipate customer demands, target scarce resources to not so obvious areas in critical need, predict and prevent future adverse events and maximise opportunities as they emerge. Reviews of several high profile and tragic events across the UK including child fatalities have concluded that councils together with other public sector partners had all along been in possession of the information needed to prevent or mitigate such events but were not aware of it or had not used it.

This project seeks to review the use of data within councils, using different service areas across four councils as case studies / proofs of concept. The objective is to develop a roadmap / toolkit for how data can be optimised for better outcomes. Starting from the multiple points where data is captured by the organisation, how it is validated and processed, stored, analysed and used to inform decision making.

Critically the project will examine how data could be used to predict customer trends, service design and delivery and prevent or mitigate adverse events. Not only will it be of significant benefit to other local authorities, the principles can be applied to other public sector organisations.

Each council will select a proof of concept area and chart the data journey via incoming data streams from the different data sources such as the police, members of the public, housing and the NHS. The chosen areas are:

  • Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • Adult Social Care
  • Environmental Services
  • Children’s Services (Early Help, Social Care, Youth Offending)

Each council will map out its existing data infrastructure and appraise how all the data streams run through the infrastructure, noting and analysing gaps / weaknesses in the process. These could include bad or questionable data because there are no data quality audits undertaken; potential risks of breaches due to a lack of security protocols at certain points in the process; and whether there are critical gaps in data because of the absence of aggregating tools such as a data warehouse. The processes of aggregating, integrating, mining and where it exists, analysing will also be mapped and the quality of these processes as well as the value they add will be documented and evaluated.

SWOT analysis will be used to assess the impact of each tool and stage on the overall process, resulting in the creation of a best practice roadmap based on the review and analysis of tools used – their impact, added value and ultimately their criticality to the final product.

The milestones are:

  • Completing the identification and documentation of data infrastructure in each authority.
  • Completing the mapping of the journeys for all data streams for each chosen area.
  • Reviews and analyses of the impact various infrastructure tools have on the data and corrective actions required.
  • Completion of business case containing initial problem, proposal, case studies and resulting roadmap.

Each council has varying resources though none is fully resourced to undertake all aspects of this project. The work will be delivered using a mix of in-house and externally sourced staff, sharing in-house resources and expertise with each other.

Effective utilisation of data across local government is recognised as collectively weak and this project seeks to illustrate the benefits of effectively utilising data to improve service delivery and the targeting and commissioning of services.

Domestic and Sexual Violence is a nationwide problem and the costs to services and people are significant for both councils and other authorities. Leicester City Council will examine how more effective sharing and analysis of data will help identify those at risk and help prevent costly remedial activities.

Lambeth Council’s Children’s Services use a number of siloed systems to record interactions and interventions with service users. The data is not integrated or properly analysed, which hinders service delivery and makes identifying and tracking families with multiple needs complicated and labour intensive. There is limited scope for predictive analytics, which would help prevent adverse events. This project will illustrate how improved data management can improve outcomes for children.

Milton Keynes will examine the data flows associated with referrals into Adult Social Care. In 2017/18, the council completed 750 assessments and 1,050 reviews, costing £1.9M. The research will investigate how data is collected and used to assess eligibility and identify opportunities for improvement to ensure that customers are seen within 28 days of their enquiry.

Over £1M was spent clearing fly-tips in Kent in 2016/17. The cost of this problem is replicated across the UK. This project will enable Canterbury Council to better understand and predict where environmental crime is likely to happen and consequently plan how it can be prevented. The techniques can be applied to other service areas and the findings can be reproduced for other local authorities and used to combat fly tipping nationally. Preventing environmental crime also means reduced clean-up costs and a better and healthier environment for local people.

The proposal covers services common to hundreds of councils, which makes the project immediately relevant UK-wide. We have different deprivation and demographic indicators, which adds to its usability and relevance.

It involves each council undertaking similar exercises and analysing the results to create a single roadmap reflective of proven practice. The roadmap will consist of the processes required to collect, collate, mine and analyse data effectively. This will illustrate the potential of data and enable LAs to review how they use it & assess their own data infrastructure requirements. These are fundamental steps necessary to becoming a data driven organisation and the roadmap will play a key role in helping councils to achieve this.

User research from partners such as police and health services will be shared among the collaborating councils and will feed into the roadmap. The research can be used in the setting up of similar protocols with partners in other council areas

We will produce a business case highlighting the scale of the opportunity across local government in the UK. This will include documented issues, quantitative and qualitative costs and benefits, all within the context of customer expectations.

The user research report / section will highlight issues and challenges internal business areas and external customers (residents, businesses, partners etc.) face due to a lack of good, useable or analysed data.

The final report will detail the areas chosen, the difficulties and how they were overcome, the user research undertaken and the outcomes. Case studies will be included to illustrate methodologies alongside the risks and challenges encountered as well as the achievements. If the project leaves any questions unanswered or identifies new ones, these will be detailed in the report.

We believe that the intelligence arising from this project will serve to focus strategic thinking in different authorities regarding the use and benefits of data as a tool in customer-centric service design, delivery, appraisal and improvement.

It is clear to us that this project could potentially lead to several alpha projects covering how the data is subsequently used. It could be used to dynamically populate an open data platform leading to collaboration with private sector start-ups, other organisations and charities. It could be used in predictive analysis and modelling to improve performance and resource allocation. Next phase projects could also be set up around the security, privacy and potential for implicit bias of machine learning / predictive modelling. These are all concerns within local authorities and the industry would benefit from further work along these lines.

Our users are a mix of internal and external users of data and users of the services. In Milton Keynes for example, user groups will include health and social care professionals, voluntary and community sector workers, administrative staff and citizens aged over 18 who are either seeking or receiving care. Individual and group meetings as well as workshop style sessions will be held to investigate the as-is position and envision the ideal, to-be position. The aim is to encourage users to critically review and challenge the status quo as well as raise awareness of the potential uses and benefits of data and the cultural changes required to adopt data / business intelligence as a key driver in service design, delivery and appraisal.

Key user research objectives would be an accurate understanding of the data journey, an awareness of the potential impact of data and an appreciation of potential benefits of a different operating model. In order to achieve these objectives, the project will seek to obtain answers to the following questions:

  • What data comes in; where does it come from; how does it come in.
  • What is the data used for; when is it used; how is it used; why is it used that way.
  • How often is the need for, scope of and form of, the data reviewed and why.
  • What value does the data add to operations or strategic decisions.
  • How is the data processed; when is it processed; why is it processed in that way.
  • What and where are the opportunities for improvements.

It is also important as part of this project to communicate and share our findings and data with strategic partners. In Canterbury for example, that includes neighbouring authorities, waste contractors and the public who have a vested interest in their local area. The outcomes will also help demonstrate how we are seeking to derive as much value for money from our activities as possible

We already have a Data Scientist, Data Architect and Solutions Architects as well as business analysts from existing resources across the collaborating councils. A senior officer from the lead authority will take on the role of project manager and we also intend to liaise with local universities to gain additional insight and knowledge of best practice and industry developments. We have already requested training support for user research and other areas, so at this stage we are not requesting additional support from the Unit beyond this.

Neither Leicester City, Milton Keynes, Canterbury City or Lambeth London Borough Council have received funding for this project in the past.